Book to make the gung-hos think

25th February 2000 at 00:00
I READ Adele Geras's review of The Prisoner by James Riordan (Friday magazine, January 21) and I wondered if the reviewer had read the same book which I had recently purchased for two 12-year-old grandsons.

I first came across Professor Riordan's work when I bought Sweet Clarinet after if was nominated for the Whitbread Award in 1998, and my huge enjoyment of this work led me to The Prisoner.

I found it riveting and the most potent anti-war argument I have come across. I would not wish to purchase a book for children in this age group which dwelt on the atrocities of Nazi death camps.

I was married to a Jewish refugee, and am well aware that these particular 12 year-olds would never have been conceived had Hitler won the war, so I can hardly be accused of bias! But these children are maturing in a united Europe, and we cannot demonise the Germans forever.

There were good Germans, just as I'm sure there are good Russians, Kosovans and Afghans today. But when democracy and freedom of speech are removed, being good isn't always enough.

I've often wondered how courageous I would be in a fascist state if not only my life, but those of my family were undr threat.

So, get your reviewer to take another look. If she takes a little more care, she may discover that the bombing of Dresden is mentioned no more than the Nazi death camps. She will be hard pressed to find a word of praise for the Nazi movement, Riordan makes its role very clear.

And frankly, any "disconcerting lack of balance" is fine by me, if the message that even a "just war" has terrible repercussions can be got across to "gung ho" boys in their early teens.

Riordan's fast moving but concise style serves this purpose very well - these "gung hos" are often reluctant readers, but at a hundred or so pages, one wet afternoon is sufficient - it certainly gave my two food for thought.

Ruth Gottschalk Gilchrist. 83 Elder Road. West Norwood, London.

Adele Geras replies: I've just re-read my review of The Prisoner and while I did not love it as much as Mrs Gottschalk Gilchrist, I did say it was "exciting". Also, nowhere did I suggest that the Germans be "demonised". All I asked for was a better balance of the historical facts. Mrs. Gottschalk Gilchrist knows these well, but we cannot take such knowledge for granted in any 12-year-old.

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